Branding Wars: Sports Marketing Pros Give Their Picks for Best NY6 School Brands

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Photo credit: NY6

The six biggest college football bowl games of the year, which fall around the start of the New Year, are known as the New Year’s Six — or NY6 — for short. In recent years, these games have also become home to the College Football Playoff Semifinals on top of being high-profile matchups between several of the nation’s top programs.

The winners will ultimately be decided on December 29 and January 1 in what will hopefully be entertaining games. In the buildup, football experts will give their picks for who they believe will turn in a stronger day on the field. Each of these programs have done great work over the years building their respective brands when it comes to how fans, recruits, and media members perceive the program — but which program does it better?

Using the matchups from this year’s games, branding experts from around the sports world discussed who they think wins in a battle of the brands. 

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Atlanta): Michigan vs. Florida

Ashley DeWalt – Founder, Managing Principal of LVRG Sports: “I’m going with Michigan here based on the quality of content across their social channels leading up to the bowl game. They are really doing a great job of highlighting their program accolades right now.”

David Meltzer – CEO and Co-Founder, Sports 1 Marketing: “Between the two, I’m definitely choosing Michigan, especially considering Florida’s head-coach carousel in recent years. While it pains me to admit as an Ohio State fan, Harbaugh leveraged the “M” brand to new heights with the way he carries himself as a coach and how he recruits. While Michigan may not have achieved some of the successes of his Stanford teams, Harbaugh is helping to expand the attention on Michigan football among sports fans far and wide. And with the retirement of Urban Meyer, there is even more opportunity for Harbaugh to seize.”

Christopher Stoney – Creative Director, Alliance of American Football: “I’m going to give it to the Gators. I think what Kelly Streeter has done at Florida just absolutely captures what it’s like to be at the swamp. Their creative team does a beautiful job with the black and white, along with using orange and blue highlights — a color scheme that just absolutely jumps off to me — and they’ve done a really good job incorporating these triangles, which are kind of meant to emulate the look of the gator teeth and the scales. I love what they’re doing.”

Geoffrey Blosat – Sports Operations Analyst, Zoomph: “Michigan over Florida. Bigger coach, bigger story in the news week after week, and bigger presence online.”

Capital One Orange Bowl (Miami Gardens, Fla.): Alabama vs. Oklahoma

DeWalt: “Between these two, it’s a toss-up from a branding perspective. Both programs create engaging content across their respective social channels. However, leading up to the Orange Bowl, I’m going to pick the Sooners because they have a lot of momentum from all the success their program is achieving, whether it’s the coach, individual player or team. No doubt, the Sooners’ creative team is really pushing great content across their digital and social channels while ensuring the brand messaging is consistent.”

READ MORE: Inside the Event Management Playbook for College Football Bowl Games

Meltzer: “Alabama. Traditionally speaking, it’s easy to make the argument that the University of Oklahoma is one of the biggest and most storied brands in college sports history and has had back-to-back Heisman winners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray to support that. Nick Saban has completely changed the perception of Alabama football in recent years, however, as a football factory chock-full of top recruits and as a perennial national-title contender during his tenure.”

Stoney: “I’m going to say Oklahoma. When I look through their content, I see plenty of scroll-stopping things that I just absolutely love. ‘Boomer Sooner’ is strong. Alabama is great too, but Oklahoma is going to edge them out just barely in this instance.”

Blosat: “Alabama over Oklahoma. A decade of dominance as a team, combined with how #RollTide is just embedded into every football fan’s mind, beats the school with the last two Heisman winners.”

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (Arlington, Tex.): Clemson vs. Notre Dame

DeWalt: “My pick is Clemson. The creative team at Clemson is one of the best, if not the best, in college football. The content they are putting out is awesome. However, I do like the fact that Notre Dame is showing what they’re doing in the community for kids with their Christmas shopping event through their social channels, despite preparing for a huge bowl game.”

Meltzer: “Notre Dame. While Clemson has been extremely successful in recent years thanks to the leadership of Dabo Swinney, Notre Dame possesses, arguably, one of the strongest brands in college sports. Thriving as an independent school, Notre Dame has a historic legacy of success, combined with the attention of Catholics worldwide. That makes their brand unique in college football, as well as the leadership of Brian Kelly.”

Stoney: “I’m going to say Notre Dame. I think Clemson is probably the top of the list for almost everybody, but the reason I’m picking Notre Dame is that the school is probably one of the harder brands to design for and to build a brand around because they’re such a traditional school with so many traditional values. To build a brand around an old-school tradition is really hard to do, and I think that they’ve absolutely done that. When I see anything from Notre Dame, it feels very ‘Notre Dame.'”

Blosat: “Notre Dame over Clemson. As powerful as Clemson is, Notre Dame has the legacy factor. While Clemson has arguably a stronger digital brand and social presence, as a brand, ND comes out on top.”

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Ariz.): UCF vs. LSU

DeWalt: “I’m going with LSU on this one based upon the sheer amount of players they are able to highlight right now in the NFL. Their program is doing a great job of highlighting this leading up the bowl game.”

Meltzer: “While UCF is another fast-rising brand, it is hard to argue against the SEC powerhouse that is LSU. LSU’s fanbase is rabid (and blows UCF attendance numbers out of the water), their roster is full of future NFL talent, and the brand dominates the state of Louisiana, not facing the competition that UCF faces from other top programs such as Florida and Florida State.”

Stoney: “I am going to have to give it to the Knights. Their history is very recent, so there’s nothing to really draw on in terms of building a traditional branding look. And so the Knights have instead embraced that with a new look and a new culture, a new Nike contract — and they’ve just taken all that and run with it. Gold and black are also some tough colors to work with and they’ve crafted them into a beautiful, creative, eye-catching look.”

Blosat: “LSU over UCF. Two words: Coach O. While UCF has made a great case over the last two years, until they get more nationally televised games, they’ll be a step behind the big schools regardless of the wins and quality tweets.”

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual (Pasadena, Calif.): Ohio State vs. Washington

DeWalt: “Ohio State is my pick on this. They have one of the most consistent brands and messaging in college football, and have been creating compelling content to engage their fans for years now.”

Meltzer: “Ohio State definitely has a bigger brand; they call it ‘The Ohio State’ for a reason. Although there has been some scandals associated with the school in recent years, Ohio State always ranks among the top schools in attendance and is perennially a Big Ten championship contender. Combining that with the talent OSU sends to the NFL and a massive alumni base, Ohio State is one of the most consistently strong brands in college football.”

Stoney: “Sam Silverman at Ohio State is just at the top of his game. There’s nobody doing it better than Ohio State right now in terms of having an old-school tradition. And I think Ohio State is probably leading the pack in their charge. It’s unbelievable how creative and fun they’ve been with their typograhy and their numbers.”

Blosat: “Ohio State over Washington. Unless it’s USC, any Pac-12 school will struggle in a brand-vs.-brand matchup, especially against a Big Ten powerhouse and perennial title contender with a polarizing coach.”

Allstate Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, La.): Georgia vs. Texas

DeWalt: “Both of the programs are very consistent in their brand strategy and messaging, but I have to give the nod to the UT because they are mixing in a bit of everything right now, from content about their graduates to players getting invites to the Senior Bowl and current NFL players. They are taking advantage of the branding opportunities right now.”

READ MORE: Inside the Meteoric Rise of College Football Bowl Games

Meltzer: “Texas. Historically, Texas has had a bigger brand than the Georgia Bulldogs, and part of that is due to the larger alumni base of the school, as well as the football-obsessed population in Texas. I think that Georgia definitely is one of the fastest-rising football brands, with coach Kirby Smart closely modeling successes of Alabama football, and could overtake Texas if the program continues to excel in the SEC.”

Stoney: “Matt Lange at Texas is one of the strongest designers in college football, hands down. He started incorporating a lot more white space and this sandy grit-texture style into it. It really feels like Texas, which is one of the most iconic brands in all of sports. Matt and his whole team on the design/digital side have just done a phenomenal job.”

Blosat: “Texas over Georgia. Probably the closest matchup in terms of brand vs. brand. They’re always back, year after year, and will never not be in the news. Landing the Player of the Year (Jake Smith) as a recruit doesn’t hurt either.”